EDITORIAL: ASUU Must Think Out of the Box
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) of all entities should have realized by now that one cannot keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. The union, against logic, has called a nationwide strike to press for its now age long demands.
The demands, which has to do with increasing funding of Universities, improving welfare of the lecturers and reviving the quality of university education in Nigeria, are all noble. The snag is that these teachers have become addicted to strike as the only way of asking the government to get these things done, which raises the question if how amenable these aggrieved union is to change. If they have been stuck on strikes as the only way of getting government to see their point of view then we should be worried about how responsive they are to change in terms of what they offload on their students.
Unfortunately, addressing the problems identified by ASUU is in no way a magic bullet that will place Nigerian public universities among the global top 1000. Worse than the issue of funding is the moral deficit of lecturers that regular flood the news with sex for marks scandals, cash for grade scandals, qualification forgery by the teachers, cultism and other despicable acts that should not be associated with people entrusted with grooming the future generations.
The unionists nonetheless have their fans, cheerleaders who egg them on to pursue disruptive strikes that would again be called off without the said demands being met while the education sector is simply primed for another season of strike in the foreseeable future. Ironically, the preponderance of those urging ASUU on its destructive mission have nothing to lose. They are mostly made up of well off folks whose children are steadily getting tutelage in private universities and that is if they are not abroad for the same purpose; they are politicians whose party did nothing to meet ASUU’s perennial demands while they held sway but now think everybody must be made miserable; and they are people who have no appreciation of the issues being themselves products of substandard knowledge dished out by lecturers. ASUU must step back to take a holistic view of things and not be deluded by support from those who have nothing to lose.
Worse than the government’s argument in the past when paucity of funds was the leading excuse, the economy is now in the grip of a recession, which ASUU members cannot claim to be ignorant of. For this reason the indefinite strike may turn out to be interminable at which point the union would end up looking bad, which it would address by softening its stance calling off the strike without its demands being met. The ingredients for another round of strike for another time would have then been born.
What has not changed following from experience of the past is that ASUU would be hard pressed to prove that this strike is not at the instance of politicians that are sponsoring it to make the government of the day look bad. It has happened before. Officials of the trade union would abuse their organization by deploying it as a tool for making political points while making the flawed industrial action appear legit.
It does not have to be that way. ASUU does not have to stick to its outdated way of doing things same way it has done nothing to upgrade it’s members’ outdated teaching methods. What is needed is for the union to offer new ways of funding the changes it is seeking.
Possibilities include demanding that students supplement government funding while each school gets the autonomy to decide what to charge in this regard. The model would not be too different from South Africa’s where each school basically runs as an independent business. This would prove expensive for parents and students alike but some of those who will complain already pay ten folds of the kind of fee that would result from such model. The higher cost to students that would result could be mitigated with provision of student loans and that is provided ASUU members would then be able to produce employable graduates.
Being the ones bearing the heat, the lecturers are in the best position to come up with creative ideas about how to finance the changes they want because even if the globally set 18% of the national budget is committed to the education sector going forward the impact of the years of neglect would not be magically wiped out. Whatever ideas the unionists come up with can only be presented at negotiations they have walked away from.
Their hurried departure from the negotiation to call a strike sends wrong signals about their intentions and the suspicion would only grow the more they remain recalcitrant in the face of today’s glaring realities. The lecturers must therefore find the way of walking back their decision to go on strike while they for once come up with a new way of addressing challenges without recourse to shutting down the system.